Playing for Real Madrid remains one of the highest honours in any footballer’s career.
It is as close as a player can get to guaranteed success in the form of silverware, such is the volume of trophies Real Madrid have collected in their history.
But for some, joining the La Liga giants doesn’t always turn out to be a positive step. Indeed, many have tried and failed to thrive at the Bernabeu.
A factor unique to Real Madrid is that their flops still often lift a trophy. But silverware can’t always help a career clearly on the decline.
Here are 10 examples of players who went downhill after joining Real Madrid.
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1. Asier Illaramendi
Appearances for Real Madrid: 90
Clubs played for since: Real Sociedad
Madrid lured Asier Illaramendi to the Bernabeu from Real Sociedad for a reported fee of around £28.6m in the summer of 2013. His arrival was perhaps a response to Luka Modric’s difficult first season in Spain. Since then, those two players have gone in vastly different directions.
While Modric soon settled and ultimately became one of the club’s greatest midfielders, Illaramendi lasted just two years in the capital before being sold back to Sociedad. Once considered good enough to be playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs, the Spaniard is now a far cry from Champions League football.
2. Nuri Sahin
Appearances for Real Madrid: 10
Clubs played for since: Liverpool (loan), Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen
A key part of the Borussia Dortmund side that won the Bundesliga under Jurgen Klopp in 2010/11, Nuri Sahin earned himself a big move to Madrid the summer after getting a taste for domestic glory in Germany. However, injuries and form issues meant he made just four league appearances for Jose Mourinho’s side.
The following summer he was loaned to Liverpool, but things didn’t go much better in England. And though he made a fairytale return to Dortmund, initially on loan and then permanently, Sahin failed to replicate his form of old and became an intermittently used squad player. He joined Werder Bremen this summer.
Appearances for Real Madrid: 120
Clubs played for since: AC Milan, Sao Paulo, Orlando City
Kaka was one of the best players on the planet in the summer of 2009 when he finally left AC Milan for Real Madrid. But despite impressing sporadically in Spain, he never really looked like the player who tore Manchester United apart in the 2006/07 Champions League.
Maybe that’s because his arrival was eclipsed by that of an ever more expensive superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, who took to life in La Liga like a duck to water in comparison to Kaka. The Brazilian eventually re-joined AC Milan, but only lasted one season before stints in Brazil and America. He is now retired.
4. Raul Albiol
Appearances for Real Madrid: 118
Clubs played for since: Napoli
For the level of footballer he is currently considered, Raul Albiol hasn’t had a half-bad career. He won La Liga and the Copa del Rey with Madrid and has since won a Coppa Italia and a Supercoppa Italiana with Napoli. But it’s the reputation Albiol attained at Valencia, prior to joining Madrid, that makes his subsequent career a little disappointing.
Madrid signed Albiol with the expectation he would be a regular for club and country for years to come. But instead of attaining the prestige of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, Albiol went in the opposite direction. His appearance numbers began to dwindle and in 2013 he was sold to Napoli, where success has been hard to come by.
5. Lassana Diarra
Appearances for Real Madrid: 117
Clubs played for since: Anzhi Makhachkala, Lokomotiv Moscow, Marseille, Al Jazira, PSG
One of the most bizarre trajectories in the history of the game belongs to Lassana Diarra. Following spells with Chelsea, Arsenal and Portsmouth in England, none of whom he played for regularly, he suddenly found himself at Real Madrid.
It wasn’t a huge shock; there was clearly a very talented player in there somewhere. But Madrid failed to nurture that talent and he was nothing more than a squad player in Spain. Stints in Russia, France and the United Arab Emirates followed, and after moving back to Ligue 1 with PSG he retired from the game this year.
6. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
Appearances for Real Madrid: 20
Clubs played for since: Schalke, Ajax
Poached from Ajax in the summer of 2008, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was expected to continue banging in the goals for Madrid. Eight goals in 20 appearances isn’t a terrible ratio by any means, but the Dutchman was clearly out of his depth at the Bernabeu and was sold after just one season.
He reignited his career at Schalke, yet there has been a lingering feeling of an opportunity missed. A potentially trophy-laden career became an admirable but almost fruitless one in Germany before his eventual return to Ajax.
7. Royston Drenthe
Appearances for Real Madrid: 65
Clubs played for since: Hercules (loan), Everton (loan), Alania, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Kayseri Erciyesspor, Baniyas, Sparta Rotterdam
A glance at his last few clubs tells you all you need to know about Royston Drenthe’s longevity at any club. That’s why the fact he stayed at Madrid for longer than any other club in his senior career is so intriguing. He was part of Madrid’s 2007/08 La Liga winning squad, but just about everything has gone downhill for him since.
8. Michael Owen
Appearances for Real Madrid: 45
Clubs played for since: Newcastle United, Manchester United, Stoke City
Michael Owen scored 16 goals in his one season at Madrid, meaning he found the net once every three games. That isn’t bad, but his stature as one of Europe’s most lethal finishers suggested he might have done more for Madrid. He had lost a yard of pace by then and soon found himself back in England with Newcastle.
An unlikely return to a top club came about when Sir Alex Ferguson snapped him up for Manchester United in 2009, but Owen was never quite the same player as the young, fearless striker who won games on his own for Liverpool and England in his heyday.
9. Jonathan Woodgate
Appearances for Real Madrid: 14
Clubs played for since: Middlesbrough, Tottenham, Stoke City, Middlesbrough
Jonathan Woodgate to Madrid was an utterly strange move for all involved. He didn’t make a single appearance during his first season at the club because of injury, something that went on to define his career. The former Newcastle man eventually made his debut only to score an own goal and receive a red card.
Beneath his injuries and controversies, Woodgate was an incredibly good centre-back. Tottenham noticed that when Woodgate was at Middlesbrough, the club he joined from Madrid. But injuries always held back a defender once considered good enough to play alongside the Galacticos.
10. Thomas Gravesen
Appearances for Real Madrid: 49
Clubs played for since: Celtic, Everton
No one is pretending Thomas Gravesen should have been a superstar at the Bernabeu. He was signed as a squad player and he provided what was needed for the most part. But an impressive start to life in Spain after an unexpected move from Everton saw Gravesen presented with the chance to earn cult status at Madrid.
Instead, his performances dipped and he received criticism for his rough style of play. The Dane was involved in a training ground bust-up with teammate Robinho – I wonder who won – and as a result, left the club on questionable terms and with no honours.